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Mount Union Sets NCAA Record

Now Mount Union can go back to concentrating on what it does best -- win national championships.

The Purple Raiders beat Otterbein 44-20 Saturday for their 48th consecutive victory, surpassing Oklahoma's 42-year-old all-division mark of 47 in a row.

"When you win a national championship, it's more of a culminating event from a season of hard work," said Larry Kehres, who has coached Mount Union to four Division III championships including the last three. "This is not quite that."

Mount Union is accustomed to being respected but relatively ignored by the media. Instead, the players and coaches have been besieged for interviews over the last two weeks. They said they would welcome a return to anonymity.

"These games, that's what you like to play for," quarterback Gary Smeck said after completing 15 of 26 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. "But I'm glad it's over. Now we'll get back in our routine. No more press conferences on Tuesdays."

Senior defensive tackle Matt Domin said there was no comparison between winning a title game and extending a streak.

"National championships are a lot better to accomplish," he said. "I'll probably think more of them when the season's over and I'm done playing football."

In the locker room before the game, Kehres addressed his team.

"I told them I was nervous and I'd understand it they were tense," he said. He needn't have worried.

Smeck completed only 10 passes in the first half but they went for 205 yards and two touchdowns as the Purple Raiders built a 28-7 lead. Smeck, leading an offense that has only four seniors listed among its top 22 players, set the tone by hitting Adam Marino on a 39-yard bomb on the Raiders' first play.

"That first quarter was almost like a nightmare for us," Otterbein coach Wally Hood said.

Using the pass to set up the run, the Purple Raiders also got a big day from Chuck Moore, who rushed for 180 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Kehres had fretted not that the streak would end but that a player might make a mistake that would end it and forever be stigmatized.

"I'm glad we're past that," he said, relieved.

The game was played before a record crowd of 7,132 in Mount Union Stadium, capacity 5,000. The Purple Raiders have a national title banner for each of their four light poles around the field.

Mount Union, a 2,000-student school midway between Canton and Youngstown in northeastern Ohio, has won 70 of its last 71 games.

There was no pep rally, bonfire or parade for the players during the week as Kehres attempted to keep the focus on the game. Besides, there probably wouldn't have been much interest from the student body, since few of the students had ever seen the Purple Raiders lose and almost all have come to expect a national title.

Only the fans and media seeed to get emotionally involved with the historic implications of the game.

The general admission areas of the small stadium were packed 90 minutes before game time. With the kickoff still 45 minutes away, the public address announcer asked those without a seat to stand behind the chainlink fence circling the field. They stood three and four deep until the final gun.

The crowd included the usual assortment of fans to be found at a nationally televised game between Division I-A powers. There were coeds with hair dyed purple, students with the letters M-O-U-N-T painted on their scrawny, hairless chests and aging alumni who sat quietly amidst the din.

There was purple everywhere, from the Purple Raiders' all-purple uniforms and the lettering on the field to the large purple scoreboard and almost every shirt and hat in the stands.

It was a rare step into the spotlight for Mount Union, despite its four national titles and 114-6-1 record this decade. More than 100 media credentials were handed out -- roughly four times the number for a typical home game.

Kehres, who has the highest winning percentage of any college football coach ever, said he did not welcome the comparisons with Notre Dame's legendary Knute Rockne or Bud Wilkinson, who guided Oklahoma's streak. He also said Mount Union could never surpass Oklahoma's accomplishments.

"There are some things in football that are hallowed ground," he said. "I should be the primary spokesman that Division III is not like Division I football. Their achievements should be treated with all the respect they merit."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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